Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Joel, Book of.

Additional Links

I. Personal Circumstances.

1. Birthplace. Pseudo-Epiphanius (2, 245) records a tradition that the prophet Joel was of the tribe of Reuben, born and buried at Bethhoron (v.r. Bethoim, etc.), between Jerusalem and Caesarea. It is most likely that he lived in Judaea. for his commission was to Judah, as that of Hosea had been to the ten tribes (Jerome, Comment. in Joel.). He exhorts the priests, and makes frequent mention of Judah and Jerusalem (1, 14; 2, 1, 153 32; 3, 1, 12, 17, 20, 21). It has been made a question whether he were a priest himself (Winer, Realw.), but there do not seem to be sufficient grounds for determining it in the affirmative, though some recent writers (e.g. Maurice, Prophets and Kings, p. 189) have taken this view.

2. Date. Various opinions have been held respecting the period in which Joel lived. It appears most probable that he was contemporary with Amos and Isaiah, and delivered his predictions in the reign of Uzziah, B.C. cir. 800. This is the opinion maintained by Abarbanel, Vitringa, Rosenmü ller, De Wette, Holzhausen, and others (see D.H. v. Kö lln, Diss. de Joel oetate, Marb. 1811; Jä ger, in the Tü bing. theol. Zeitschr. 1828, 2, 227). Credner (Joel, p. 38 sq.), with whom agree Movers (Chronicles 119 sq.), Hitzig (Kleine Proph. p. 4), and Meier (Joel, p. 16 sq.), places him in the time of Joash; Bertholdt (Einleit. 4, 1604) in that of Hezekiah; Cramer and Eckermann in Josiah's reign; Jahn (Einl. 2, 476) in Manasseh's; and Schrö der still later; while some have placed him during the Babylonian captivity (Steudel, in Bengel's Archiv., 2, 232), and even after it (Vatke. Bibl. Theol. p. 462). The principal reason for the above conclusion; besides the order of the books (the Sept., however, places Joel after Amos and Micah), is the special and exclusive mention of the Egyptians and Edomites as enemies of Judah, no allusion being made to the Assyrians or Babylonians, who arose at a later period.

II. Contents. We find, what we should expect on the supposition of Joel being the first prophet to Judah, only a grand outline of the whole terrible scene, which was to be depicted more and more in detail by subsequent prophets (Browne, Ordo Soecl. p. 691). The scope, therefore, is not any particular invasion, but the whole day of the Lord. "This book of Joel is a type of the early Jewish prophetical discourse, and may explain to us what distant events in the history of the land would expand it, and bring fresh discoveries within the sphere of the inspired man's vision" (Maurice, Prophets and Kings, p. 179). The proximate event to which the prophecy related was a public calamity, then impending on Judaea, of a twofold character: want of water, and a plague of locusts, continuing for several years. The prophet exhorts the people to turn to God with penitence, fasting, and prayer, and then, he says, the plague shall cease, and the rain descend in its season, and the land yield her accustomed fruit nay, the time will be a most joyful one; for God, by the outpouring of his Spirit, will impart to his worshippers increased knowledge of himself, and, after the excision of the enemies of his people, will extend through them the blessings of true religion to heathen lands. Browne (Ordo Soecl. p. 692) regards the contents of the prophecy as embracing two visions, but it is better to consider it as one connected representation (Hengstenberg, Winer). For its interpretation we must observe not isolated facts of history, but the idea. The swarm of locusts was the medium through which this idea, "the ruin upon the apostate Church," was represented to the inward contemplation of the prophet; but, in one unbroken connection, the idea goes on to penitence, return, blessing, outpouring of the Spirit, judgments on the enemies of the Church (1 Peter 4:17), final establishment of God's kingdom. All prior destructions, judgments, and victories are like the smaller circles, the final consummation of all things, to which the prophecy reaches, being the outmost one of all. There are thus four natural divisions of the entire book.

1. The prophet opens his commission by announcing an extraordinary plague of locusts, accompanied with extreme drought, which he depicts in a strain of animated and sublime poetry under the image of an invading army (Joel 1:1-2; Joel 1:11). The fidelity of his highly wrought description is corroborated and illustrated by the testimonies of Shaw, Volney, Forbes, and other eminent travelers, who have been eye witnesses of the ravages committed by this most terrible of the insect tribe. (See LOCUST).

It is to be observed that locusts are named by Moses as instruments of the divine justice (Deuteronomy 28:38-39), and by Solomon in his prayer at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8:37). In the second chapter the formidable aspect of the locusts, their rapid progress, their sweeping devastation, the awful murmur of their countless throngs, their instinctive marshalling, the irresistible perseverance with which they make their way over every obstacle and through every aperture, are delineated with the utmost graphic force (Justi, Die Heuschrecken-Verwü stung Joel 2, in Eichhorn's Bibliothek, 4, 30-79). Dr. Hengstenberg calls in question the reality of their flight, but, as it appears to us, without adequate reason. Other particulars are mentioned which literally can apply only to locusts, and which, on the supposition that the language is allegorical, are explicable only as being accessory traits for filling up the picture (Davidson, Sacred Hermeneutics, p. 310).

Maurice (Prophets and Kings, p. 180) strongly maintains the literal interpretation of this judgment. Yet the plague contained a parable in it which it was the prophet's mission to unfold (comp. "heathen," 1, 6). Hence a figurative interpretation was adopted by an early paraphrast, Ephrem the Syrian (A.D. 350), who supposes that by the four different denominations of the locusts were intended Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar. The Jews, in the time of Jerome (A.D. 400), understood by the first term the Assyrians and Chaldeans; by the second, the Medes and Persians; by the third, Alexander the Great and his successors, and by the fourth, the Romans. By others, however, the prophecy was interpreted literally, and Jerome himself appears to have fluctuated between the two opinions, though more inclined to the allegorical view. Grotius applies the description to the invasions by Pul and Shalmaneser. Holzhausen attempts to unite both modes of interpretation, and applies the language literally to the locusts, and metaphorically to the Assyrians. It is singular, however, that, if a hostile invasion be intended, not the least hint is given of personal injury sustained by the inhabitants; the immediate effects are confined entirely to the vegetable productions and the cattle. Dr. Hengstenberg, while strongly averse from the literal sense, is not disposed to limit the metaphorical meaning to any one event or class of invaders. "The enemy," he remarks, "are designated only as north countries. From the north, however, from Syria, all the principal invasions of Palestine proceeded. We have, therefore, no reason to think exclusively of any one of them; nor ought we to limit the prophecy to the people of the old covenant. Throughout all centuries there is but one Church of God existing in unbroken connection. That this Church, during the first period of its existence, was concentrated in a land into which hostile irruptions were made from the north was purely accidental. To make this circumstance the boundary stone of the fulfilment of prophecy were just as absurd as if one were to assert that the threatening of Amos, By the sword shall all sinners of my people die,' has not been fulfilled in those who perished after another manner" (Christology Keith's translation, 3, 104). In accordance with the literal (and certainly the primary) interpretation of the prophecy, we should render אֶתאּהִמּוֹרֶה as in our A.V., "the former rain," with Rosenmü ller and the lexicographers, rather than "a (or the) teacher of righteousness," with margin of A.V., Hengstenberg, and others. The allusion to the Messiah which Hengstenberg finds in this word, or to the ideal teacher (Deuteronomy 18:18), of whom Messiah was the chief, scarcely accords with the immediate context.

2. The prophet, after describing the approaching judgments, calls on his countrymen to repent, assuring them of the divine placability and readiness to forgive (Joel 2:12-17). He foretells the restoration of the land to its former fertility, and declares that Jehovah would still be their God (Joel 2:18-26; comp. Mü ller, Anmerk. ib. 2, 16, in Brenz. and Verd. Biblioth. 2, 161).

3. The אֵחֲרֵיכֵן of 3:1 in the Hebrew, "afterwards," 2:27 of the A.V., raises us to a higher level of vision, and brings into view Messianic times and scenes (comp. Tysche, Illustratio vaticinii. Joelis 3 [Gö tt. 1788]; Steudel, Disq. in Joelis 3 Tü bing. 1820]). Here, says Steudel, we have a Messianic prophecy altogether. If this prediction has ever yet been fulfilled, we must certainly refer the event to Acts 2. The best commentators are agreed upon this. We must not, however, interpret it thus to the exclusion of all reference to preparatory events under the earlier dispensation, and still less to the exclusion of later Messianic times. Acts 2 virtually contained the whole subsequent development. The outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost was the ἀπαρχη, while the full accomplishment and the final reality are yet to come. But here both are blended in one, and the whole passage has therefore a double aspect (see Dresde, Proph. Joelis de effusione Sp. S. [Witt. 1782]). The passage is well quoted by Peter from the first prophet to the Jewish kingdom. His quoting it shows that the Messianic reference was the prevailing one in his day, though Acts 2:39 proves that he extended his reference to the end of the dispensation. The expression "all flesh" (Acts 2:17) is explained by the following clauses, by which no principle of distribution is meant, but only that all classes, without respect of persons, will be the subjects of the Spirit's influences. All distinction of races, too, will be done away (comp. Joel 2:32 with Romans 10:12-13).

4. Lastly, the accompanying portents and judgments upon the enemies of God (ch. 3, A.V.; 4, Hebrews), and their various solutions, according to the interpreters, in the repeated deportations of the Jews by neighboring merchants, and sale to the Macedonians (1 Maccabees 3:41; Ezekiel 27:13), followed by the sweeping away of the neighboring nations (Maurice); in the events accompanying the crucifixion, in the fall of Jerusalem, in the breaking up of all human polities. But here again the idea includes all manifestations of judgment, ending with the last. The whole is shadowed forth in dim outline, and, while some crises are past, others are yet to come (comp. 3:13-21 with Matthew 24 and Revelation 19). SEE DOUBLE SENSE.

III. The style of Joel, it has been remarked, unites the strength of Micah with the tenderness of Jeremiah. In vividness of description he rivals Nahum, and in sublimity and majesty is scarcely inferior to Isaiah and Habakkuk (Couz, Diss. de charactere poetico Joelis [Tü b. 1783]). "Imprimis est elegans, clarus, fusus, fluensque; valde etiam sublimis acer, fervidus" (Lowth, De Sacra Poesi Hebr. Prael. 21). Many German divines hold that Joel was the pattern of all the prophets. Some say that Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3, are direct imitations of him. Parts of the New Test. also (Revelation 9:2 sq.; Revelation 14:18) are pointed out as passages in his style.

The canonicity of this book has never been called in question, IV. Commentaries. The special exegetical helps on the book of Joel as a whole are the following, to the most important of which we prefix an asterisk: Ephrem Syrus, Explanatio (in Syr., in Opp. 5, 249); Hugo a St. Victor, Annotationes (in Opp. 1); Seb. Mü nster, Commentarius (Aben- Ezra's, Basil. 1530, 8vo).; Luther, Enarratio [brief, with Amos and Obadiah] (Argent. 1536, 8vo); also Commentarius (Vitemb. 1547, 4to; both in German, Jen. 1553, 4to; and, together with Sententioe, in Opp. 3, 497; 4, 781, 821); Seb. Tuscan, Commentarius (Colon. 1556, fol.); Topsell, Commentarius (London, 1556, 1613, 4to; also in Engl. ib. 1599, 4to); Mercier, Commentarius [on first five minor proph.] (Paris, s. a. fol.; Lugd. 1621, 4to); Genebrard, Adnotationes (from Aben-Ezra and others, Paris, 1563, 4to); Draconis, Explicatio [with Micah and Zechariah] (Vitemb. 1565, fol.; and later separately); Selnecker, Anmerkungen (Lpz. 1578, 4to); Schadaeus, Synopsis (Argent. 1588, 4to); Matthias, Proelectiones (Basil. 1590, 8vo); Simonis, Joel propheta (Cracov. 1593, 4to); Bunny, Enarratio (Lond. 1583, 1595, 8vo); Bonerus, Paraphrasis (F. ad O. 1597, 4to); Wolder, Diexodus (Vitemb. 1605, 4to); Gesner, Comment. (Vitemb. 1614. 8vo); Tarnovius, Commentarius (Rost. 1627, 4to); Ursinus, Commentarius (Francf. 1641, 8vo); Strahl, Erklä r. (Wittenb. 1650, 4to); Leusden, Explicatio [Rabbinical, includ. Obad.] (Ultraj. 1657, 8vo); De Veil, Commentarius (Par. 1676, 8vo); *Pocock, Commentary (Oxf. 1691, fol.; in Latin, Lipsiae, 1695, 4to); Hase, Analysis (Brem. 1697, 4to); *Van Toll, Vitlegginge (Utrecht, 1700, 4to); Schurrmann, Schaubü hne (Wesel, 1700, 4to; in Dutch, ib. 1703, 4to); Zierold, Auslegung [mystical] (Francfort, 1720, 4to); J.A. Turretin, in his De S. S. Interpretatione, p. 307-45 (ed. Teller, Tr. ad Rh. 1728, 8vo); Chandler, Commentary (Lond. 1735, 4to); Richter, Animadversiones (Vitemb. 1747, 8vo), Baumgarten, Auslegung (Halle, 1756, 4to); Cramer, Commentarius (in his Scyth. Denkm. Kiel and Hamb. 1777-8, p. 143-245); Couz, Dissertatio, etc. (Tü b. 1783, 4to); Bü ttner, Joel vates (Coburg, 1784, 8vo); Eckermann, Erklä rung (Tü b. u. Lpz. 1786, 8vo); Justi, Erlä uterung (Lpz. 1792, 8vo); Wiggers, Erklä rung (Gö tt. 1799, 8vo); Horsley, Notes (in Bibl. Crit. 2, 390); M. Philippson, מנְחָה טְהוֹרָה [including Hosea] (Dessau, 1805, 8vo); Swanborg, Notoe (Upsala, 1806, 8vo); *Rosenmü ller, Scholia (in vol. 7, pt. 1, Lipsiae, 1827, 8vo); Schrö der, Anmerk. [includ. other poet. books] (in Harfenklä nge, etc., Hildsh. 1827, 8vo; also separately, Lpz. 1829, 8vo); Holzhausen, Weissagung, etc. (Gö tting. 1829, 8vo); *Credner, Erklä rung [Rationalistic] (Halle, 1831, 8vo); *Meier, Erklä rung (Tü b. 1844, 8vo); Robinson, Homilies (Lond. 1865, 8vo). (See PROPHETS, MINOR).

8. A chief of the Gadites, resident in Bashan (1 Chronicles 5:12). B.C. cir. 782.

9. A Levite, son of Uzziah or Azariah, and father of Elkanah, of the family of Kohath (1 Chronicles 6:36), and one of those who cooperated with Hezekiah in his restoration of the Temple services (2 Chronicles 29:12). B.C. 726. In 1 Chronicles 6:24 he is called SHAUL by an evident error of transcribers.

10. A descendant of Simeon, apparently one of those whose enlarging families compelled them to emigrate to the valley of Gedor, whose aboriginal inhabitants they expelled (1 Chronicles 4:35). B.C. cir. 712.

11. Son of Zichri, and prefect of the Benjamites resident at Jerusalem after the captivity (Nehemiah 11:9). B.C. 536.

12. One of the "sons" of Nebo, who divorced his Gentile wife after the return from Babylon (Ezra 10:43). B.C. 459.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Joel, Book of.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Joel, David